Monday, 24 November 2008

Sockpuppetry: It's all the rage

I have never heard this type of criticism levelled at William Shakespeare:
Shakespeare? It's an outrage that he has more than one character in his plays.
Of course Shakespeare had something which I manifestly lack. Talent. He could write convincing roles for characters which groups of people played out on stage. They demonstrated passion, wit, humour, pathos, bad puns and all the other great range of emotions, forms of address, story-telling, lyricism, poetry and artistry which go into a play. Can you leave a performance feeling you have learnt something about human nature, politics, philosophy and the exercise of power. Clearly yes, because that is why, amongst other reasons of entertainment and even idling away time that people have kept going back over the centuries to watch performance after performance.

Fast forward to the present day. Let's try an analogy. Suppose a “blog” is not a blog, but a stage. Suppose that “contributors” are the actors. Here is a fragment of a script which I have just found:
Sunny Hundal: That is pure genius! “I should have joined UKIP instead” - ha ha!
Justin: Christ, not LC as well. This shitty little bandwagon rolled about a year ago.
Akela: Satire at its best!
When this script is read, how does the reader know how many people have written it? On the face of it, it looks like three people are exchanging their views, but it could equally well be two or just one. When it is read, I would expect that most people will “see” three people. Does it matter to the meaning if some rare person comes along, and instantly assumes that the entire posting is authored by just one person?

Back to the Shakespearian play. I can definitely see three people on stage. I “know” that the play was written by one person. Or do I? Leaving any historical evidence to one side, any particular play could have had one, two, three or any number of contributors to write the script. Does it add to, or take anything away from the performance to know precisely how many authors there were?

Blogs offer a bit more to a performance than old fashioned plays. You can take part too. You can interact with the one or more other participants you discover. But you can never know how many others there are, in the same way that you can if you conduct a conversation in a room. Why is your counting so important to you that it “offends” when you get it wrong?

If you can answer the questions posed here, you will be able to justify you anger at the phenomena called sockpuppets. Remember that sockpuppetry is both legal and offensive in exactly the same way that Punk Rockers are. And homosexuals, and gypsies, and chavs, and Nazis (both real and imagined), and Muslims, and Jews, and people who paint their front-doors a different colour to everyone else, and witches and fundamentalists and non-orthodox and ultra-orthodox and people who think or do things differently from you.

My technical challenge is this. If sockpuppetry is really so offensive to you, why do you not build blogs on which it couldn't possibly happen? Or are you happier spreading your bile then admitting that you lack the skills to address your problem?

Thank you for reading. You have just be introduced to the Theory of Number Rage. A posited explanation for the childish outburst of anger expressed by people upon discovering they don't know how to count.

Update: Oh and Mr Gilligan can go and fry in hell for all I care. If he's too weak to defend his own position, that's not my problem.

Update 2: I am declaring myself neutral with respect to the activities of any previous, present and future sockpuppets, my own excepted. However, I do reserve my right to comment on the ethical implications of the authors motives and any other action, because it is an area which interests me greatly. I mentioned to one or more ephemeral members of the blogosphere in an earlier conversation that socking is a feature, get over it. Learn to use it. I do not apologise for using an opportunity which presented itself on the "outing" of a journalist as a sockpuppet, as I believe this is an entirely appropriate place to debate the merits or otherwise of sockpuppeting. For the record, I condemn witch hunts, but I am quite happy with the notion of witchcraft.

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